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- The Underworld - 1/49 -


THE UNDERWORLD

The Story of Robert Sinclair, Miner

by

JAMES C. WELSH

New York Frederick A. Stokes Company Publishers

1920

PREFACE

I have tried to write of the life I know, the life I have lived, and of the lives of the people whom, above all others, I love, and of whom I am so proud.

My people have been miners for generations, and I myself became a miner at the age of twelve. I have worked since then in the mine at every phase of coal getting until about five years ago, when my fellow workers made me their checkweigher.

I say this that those who read my book may know that the things of which I write are the things of which I have firsthand knowledge.

JAMES C. WELSH. DOUGLAS WATER, LANARK.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. THE THONG OF POVERTY

II. A TURN OF THE SCREW

III. THE BLOCK

IV. A YOUNG REBEL

V. BLACK JOCK'S THREAT

VI. THE COMING OF A PROPHET

VII. ON THE PIT-HEAD

VIII. THE MANTLE OF MANHOOD

IX. THE ACCIDENT

X. HEROES OF THE UNDERWORLD

XI. THE STRIKE

XII. THE RIVALS

XIII. THE RED HOSE RACE

XIV. THE AWAKENING

XV. PETER MAKES A DECISION

XVI. A STIR IN LOWWOOD

XVII. MYSIE RUNS AWAY

XVIII. MAG ROBERTSON'S FRENZY

XIX. BLACK JOCK'S END

XX. THE CONFERENCE

XXI. THE MEETING WITH MYSIE

XXII. MYSIE'S RETURN

XXIII. HOME

XXIV. A CALL FOR HELP

XXV. A FIGHT WITH DEATH

CHAPTER I

THE THONG OF POVERTY

"Is it not about time you came to your bed, lassie?"

"Ay, I'll no' be very long now, Geordie. If I had this heel turned, I'll soon finish the sock, and that will be a pair the day. Is the pain in your back worse the nicht, that you are so restless?" and the clicking of the needles ceased as the woman asked the question.

"Oh, I'm no' so bad at all," came the answer. "My back's maybe a wee bit sore; but a body gets tired lying always in the yin position. Forby, the day aye seems long when you are out, and I dinna like to think of you out working all day, and then sitting down to knit at nicht. It must be very tiring for you, Nellie."

"Oh, I'm no' that tired," she replied with a show of cheerfulness, as she turned another wire in the sock, and set the balls of wool dancing on the floor with the speed at which she worked. "I've had a real good day to-day, and I'm feeling that I could just sit for a lang while the nicht, if only the paraffin oil wadna' go down so quick. But the longer I sit, it burns the more, and it's getting gey dear to buy now-a-days."

"Ay," said the weary voice of the man. "If it's no' clegs it's midges. Folk have always something to contend against. But don't be long till you stop. It's almost twelve o'clock, and you ought to be in your bed."

"Oh, I'll no' be very long, Geordie," was the bravely cheerful answer. "Just you try and gang to sleep and I'll soon finish up. I'll have to try and get up early in the morning, for I have to go to Mrs. Rundell and wash. She always gi'es me twa shillings, and that's a good day's pay. The only thing I grudge is being away all day, leaving you and the bairns, for I ken they're no' very easy to put up with. They're steerin' weans, and are no' easy on a body who is ill."

"Ay, they're a steerin' lot, lassie," he answered tenderly. "But, poor things, they must hae some freedom, Nellie. I wish I was ready for my work."

"Hoot, man," she said with the same show of cheerfulness. "We might have been worse, and you will be better some day, and able to work as well as ever you did."

For a time there was silence, broken only by the loud ticking of the clock, the clicking of the needles, and occasionally a low moan from the bed, as the injured miner sank into a restless sleep.

There had been an accident some six weeks before, and Geordie Sinclair, badly wounded by a fall of stone, had been brought home from the pit in a cart.

It was during the time known to old miners as the "two-and-sixpenny winter," that being the sum of the daily wage then earned by the miners. A financial crisis had come upon the country and the Glasgow City Bank had failed, trade was dull, and the whole industrial system was in chaos. It had been a hard time for Geordie Sinclair's wife, for there were four children to provide for besides her injured husband. Work which was well paid for was not over plentiful, and she had to toil from early morning till far into the night to earn the bare necessities of life. There were times like to-night, when she felt rebellious and bitter at her plight, but her tired eyes and fingers had to get to the end of the task, for that meant bread for the children in the morning.

The silence deepened in the little kitchen. No sound came now from the bed, and the lamp threw eerie shadows on the walls, and the chimney smoked incessantly.

Her eyes grew watery and smarted with the smoke. She dropped stitches occasionally, as she hurried with her work, which had to be lifted again when she discovered that the pattern was wrong, and sometimes quite a considerable part had to be "ripped out," so that she could correct the mistake.

The dismal calling of a cat outside irritated her, and the loud complacent ticking of the clock seemed to mock her misery; but still she worked on, the busy fingers turning the needles, as the wool unwound itself from the balls which danced upon the floor. There was life in those balls of wool as they spun to the tune of the woman's misery. They advanced and retired, like dancers, touching hands when they met, then whirling away in opposite directions again; they side-stepped and wheeled in a mad riot of joyous color, just as they were about to meet: they stood for a little facing each other, feinting from side to side, then were off again, as the music of her misery quickened, in an embracing whirl, as if married in an ecstasy of colored flame, many-shaded, yet one; then, at last, just as the tune seemed to have reached a crescendo of spirit, she dashed her work upon the floor, as she discovered another blunder, and burst into a fit of passionate weeping.

Suddenly there was a faint tap at the window, and she raised her head, staying her breath to listen. Soon she heard it again, just a faint but very deliberate tap, which convinced her that someone was outside in the darkness. Softly she stole on tiptoe across the room, so as not to disturb her sleeping husband, and opening the door quietly, craned forward and peered into the darkness to discover the cause of the tap.

"It's just me," said a deep voice, in uneasy accents, from the darkness by the window, and she saw then the form of a man edging nearer the door.


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